The Marine Academy of Science and Technology at FIU celebrated its first commencement this week, four years after opening its doors.
South Florida dignitaries, including Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg, attended the ceremony honoring MAST@FIU’s 54 inaugural graduates on June 5 at FIU’s Kovens Conference Center.
MAST@FIU is housed at the Biscayne Bay Campus, a partnership designed to enrich high schoolers’ education through collaboration with FIU faculty and staff, facilities and research opportunities.
Founded in 2013 with 100 ninth graders, the school’s enrollment has since grown to 298 students in grades 9-12. Another 125 are expected to enter in the fall.
“The opportunity to marry [the traditional high school] experience with a university environment is tremendous,” said MAST@FIU Principal Matthew Welker. Since its founding, the school has developed partnerships with FIU’s colleges and schools to support its commitment to education in science, technology, engineering and math.
MAST@FIU students have the opportunity to collaborate with FIU journalism students and faculty to document sea level rise; intern with researchers studying yeast production in the Chaplin hospitality labs; and study fish populations in Biscayne Bay with volunteers from FIU.
“Being at a research center – one that is very much a solutions center for sea level rise and other major issues – is very much in line with what we represent at MAST, which is to bring solutions to the critical issues that face South Florida and the world,” Welker said.
In addition, students can participate in dual enrollment, a program in which they take college courses through FIU alongside their high school curriculum. This past school year, about 40 students enrolled.
Two years after opening, MAST@FIU received a national STEM Excellence Award, and it has since been named a Magnet School of Distinction.
“These accomplishments are a testament to your hard work and the leadership and dedication of your teachers and administrators,” President Rosenberg told the new graduates during the ceremony.
All 54 of MAST@FIU’s inaugural graduates will attend college this fall. The majority plan to stay in-state, attending colleges like the University of Florida and Florida State University; and some will go out-of-state to universities like Cornell, Duke and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
But 22 of MAST@FIU’s seniors plan to stay right here at FIU, segueing into college life in the same halls they’ve spent the past four years.
Tori Kayla Wilness, who plans to study accounting at FIU, said the transition to FIU made sense after spending her high school career here.
“We were able to take advantage of the fact that we were on a college campus and use their facilities. It helped better prepare me for integrating to FIU, and it made me familiar with everything on campus,” Wilness said.
Welker said MAST@FIU’s first class set the bar for those to come. These students took part in shark tagging in the Gulf Stream, and they raced an energy-efficient car they built themselves in the Formula E School Series in Miami.
“This class ushered in the MAST concept,” Welker said. “To see them mature and evolve as young people, and then to see them sit there in their graduation regalia as fine, young men and women, is heartwarming.”
Masud Ahmad, the father of class representative Saad Masud, said his family had reservations at first about sending their son to a brand new school; but it quickly became evident the caliber of education he was receiving.
“The teachers were always supportive. The environment of the students is awesome. It was a safe, secure learning environment, and I’m excited that he was able to finish with a good standing for his education career,” Ahmad said. “I think this is the best school in South Florida.”
Masud graduated among the top five in his class and will attend the University of Florida on a pre-med track. He was chosen to deliver a speech at the ceremony, and he told the audience about the bond the class developed during their time at MAST@FIU.
“The sense of family that emanates from this room captures the essence that this school has to offer,” Masud said. “With every individual talent always came the support of the entire student body, and it is the very same cultivation of talent and forward-thinking that propels us to meet the challenges that we face in the real world.”
During the ceremony, Superintendent Carvalho advised the young graduates to bring others up with them as they rise to success: “Elevate your humanity and those around you, for success is a community benefit.”
He reminded them to honor their roots, and to have fun while working hard to achieve their goals.
“Live exuberantly like Lady Gaga, but speak like Maya Angelou. Dance like Drake, but speak like Gandhi. Never forget who you are, for there is no external label that shall transform the echo of your heart and the definition of your character,” Carvalho said.
Masud said the class owes their gratitude to the teachers, staff and families who supported them in their pursuit of knowledge and “for making these walls feel like a home.”